Special Edition: EU youth speaks up ahead of post-pandemic jungle

Young people, whose memories of the fallout from the 2008 economic crisis are still fresh, are speaking up. [Shutterstock/BMI]

EU policymakers and member states are currently still dealing with the health aspect of the pandemic. However, young people, whose memories of the fallout from the 2008 economic crisis are still fresh, are speaking up now in a bid to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

“Even pre-pandemic, young people were particularly vulnerable to poor quality working conditions. We saw after the 2008 economic crisis that in order to boost youth employment rates, policies were adopted that pushed young people towards more precarious work,” Panagiotis Chatzimichail, a member of the European Youth Forum, told EURACTIV.

Chatzimichail cited as an example lower youth minimum wage rates and the promotion of unpaid internships that forced young people to accept any job no matter how unrelated it was to their background.

He said that as the labour market is changing and flexible working looks to become the norm, there is a real risk that policymakers once again allow job security and social rights to slide.

“We need to grasp this opportunity to build back better and implement policies which support rather than undermine young people’s social rights,” he said.

European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit, a progressive politician who has openly opposed austerity-driven policies, will have a hard time convincing the fiscal discipline hawks in Brussels and several EU capitals.

“I am certainly mindful that one outcome of the pandemic could be that young people feel obliged to accept any work, even when it does not meet the standards of social protection that we expect in Europe,” Schmit told EURACTIV.

“Therefore, it is the Commission’s objective to make sure all jobs – be they temporary, short-term, seasonal, or via platforms – offer decent terms and conditions for the worker,” he said, adding that labour market policies should provide the security young people are entitled to in their professional lives.

European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit [EPA-EFE/JOHANNA GERON]

“You have been impacted a lot by this crisis – in your studies, in your social lives and in your attempts to get a job. Promoting and supporting youth employment has been a priority for the Commission since the beginning of this crisis.”

He added that together with the member states, the EU executive is working hard to build a strong social Europe so that young people can thrive.

He said the EU has provided member states with tools and funding to boost youth employment, for example with the reinforced Youth Guarantee, modernised vocational education and training systems, a boost to apprenticeships, and support to entrepreneurs.

“We will also present proposals to combat precariousness on the labour market notably by improving social protection and labour rights in the platform economy. The Commission has the ‘Next Generation’ at the heart of all its policies,” the Commissioner concluded.

EURACTIV spoke to a number of young people in several EU countries who suggested ideas to avoid a post-pandemic youth crisis.


WESTERN EUROPE

BERLIN | Stumbling leader of the pack

There are clear signs of recovery on the German labour market: According to the Federal Employment Agency, the number of unemployed Germans fell sharply in May to 2.6 million, with employment agencies anticipating a further recovery in the coming months as pandemic restrictions are scaled back.

Likewise, youth unemployment is scarcely as low anywhere in Europe as it has been in Germany in the past decade. Prior to the pandemic, it was comfortably below 6% and had been on a downward slope for years.

However, the pandemic has reversed this 15-year trend of decreasing youth unemployment, warns the Research Institute for Economics of Education and Social Affairs. Low-skilled youth aged between 15 and 24 are twice as likely to be unemployed relative to their vocationally qualified or academic peers.

“The pandemic doesn’t affect everyone equally,” warned Maximilian Schulz of Left Youth Solid, a left-leaning youth association.

Softening the blow on young people is the fact that fewer young Germans had sought careers in the worst-hit hospitality sector, according to the government’s statistics agency Destatis. However, the gig economy is rising in popularity, with young people especially likely to be precariously employed.

COVID-19 both negatively affected those already participating in the gig economy, and also pushed those who were struggling to make ends meet into participating in the gig economy via apps such as Lieferando and Zenjobs.

Many of those working in the gig economy did not qualify for Germany’s Kurzarbeit temporary lay-off scheme, compounding the burden of the pandemic on the young.

Schulz similarly warned that sabbaticals, mobile work and trusted working hours may seem tempting, but are often but “a euphemism for limited-time contracts, dissolution of work boundaries and bad pay” as a result of the gig economy.

In spite of the pandemic, actual unemployment figures and the number of those neither employed nor in education or training (NEETs) have increased relatively little.

The German Economic Institute warns that such low numbers may indicate that many young people may opt to extend their education rather than brave the job market, thereby kicking the problem further down the line.

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PARIS | Band-aid measures instead of long-term solutions

The pandemic is hitting young people in France particularly hard, with many struggling with poor mental health as a result.

“Forty-two percent of young French people looking for their first job have had suicidal thoughts,” Paul Mayaux, the French students’ organisations’ federation (FAGE) president told EURACTIV.

Students fear their degrees could have less value in times of crisis, while the seemingly never-ending months of lockdown and distance learning have had a major impact of their mental health, a FAGE study showed.

“The student precariousness is only increasing, the health crisis has just highlighted something that already existed,” Maryam Pougetoux, vice-president of the French national students’ union added.

In the last quarter of 2020, the unemployment rate for young French people was 18.4%, compared to 8% for the entire French population, according to the French national statistics institute. These are figures not likely to improve quickly: the unemployment rate of the active population is expected to rise to 9.3% in 2022.

Both organisations agree that the government has reacted too late, and applied only band-aid measures instead of long-term solutions.

The health crisis has hit several sectors such as tourism, hotels, restaurants, sports or culture, which young people are proportionally more likely to work in, if only through small jobs. “Nearly one student in two works in parallel to their studies”, said Pougetoux.

Unemployment is not just a problem for students. After falling steadily since 2015, the number of 15-29 year-olds neither in employment nor in education and training (NEETs) began to rise again in 2020, reaching 14%. By the age of 25-29, almost one in five young French now fall under this category.

In an attempt to reverse the trend, the French government last summer launched the “1 young person, 1 solution” plan, which offers a range of measures including recruitment aid and measures to boost apprenticeships, among others.

Its objective is “to leave no one by the wayside”, while the situation of young people could take on a major role in the public debate in the run-up to the 2022 presidential elections. At the same time, however, MPs rejected earlier this month the opening of the active solidarity income (RSA) to young people under 35.

The French recovery plan provides for more than €5 billion in aid to employers of apprentices for 820,000 eligible contracts by the end of 2021. A further mechanism sets aside just under €1 billion to give support of up to €4,000 for companies that hire an employee under the age of 26 to be partly financed by the European recovery and resilience facility.


NORDICS

HELSINKI | Post-pandemic, a widening gender gap

In Finland, the pandemic is seeing a gap open up between the sexes when it comes to youth employment.

“Students have been hit hard. But many are also in the labour market and that combination has a softening effect. However, among those not studying, the turbulent labour market is strengthening a phenomenon where women gravitate towards studies, while men succumb to unemployment – a gender gap widens,” Lotta Haikkola, a postdoctoral researcher at The Finnish Youth Research Society, told EURACTIV.

The trade sector has stayed afloat, but services have suffered. Time will tell whether the pandemic will result in a lost generation much like following the financial crisis of 2008. It is equally difficult to predict if the use of flexible and zero hours contracts, which were already growing in popularity, will increase, Haikkola said.

Young people are already bearing the brunt of the crisis, with 18.9% of 15 to 24 year olds currently registered as unemployed, compared with an overall unemployment rate of 9% in May.

Student Karoliina Vaakanainen, 24, considers herself lucky. Besides studying at Tampere University she’s been working and been relatively well-off, but looking into an uncertain future: “People have experienced a growing lack of motivation and feeling of insecurity. Can we make the ends meet, doing what? Since January, I’ve posted more than fifty job applications.”

“I would grade the government’s handling of the crisis satisfactory, but what is needed now is flexibility with study grants and loans,” Vaakanainen added.

Long periods of unemployment, such as that forced on many in the pandemic, are particularly problematic.

“When there are gaps between jobs coupled with unemployment periods finding a job, later on, may become difficult. My fear is that the number of younger people excluded from the labour markets will increase,” says Ilmari Nalbantoglu, the Director of The Finnish National Youth Council, Allianssi.

According to statistics, some 60,000 15 to 24 year olds risk being left behind without a job or a place for studies. As elsewhere, this is taking its toll on mental health. A recent Allianssi survey revealed that 72% of 13-19-year-old respondents had felt pandemic-related distress.

The Finnish government’s supplementary budget includes investments of €111 million to support children and young adults struggling with adverse impacts of the pandemic.


EUROPE’S SOUTH

ATHENS | Targeted support capitalising the ‘major digital leap

In Greece, people fear the economy will return to 2008/9 crisis levels which plunged society, and particularly young people, into a deadlock.

According to Eurostat figures, youth unemployment in the country stood at 34% in March 2021. Together with Italy, Greece also recorded in 2019 the highest proportions of young people who were neither in employment nor in education and training (25%).

The only hope is for the EU Recovery Fund to focus on targeted measures aimed at tapping young people’s potential in forward-looking sectors of the economy, according to Armodios Drikos, president of the Greek Youth Council.

“In order to avoid another brain drain, the Recovery Fund should support young people,” he said. “We need support to build targeted skills of young people around tourism, make them experts in the field and take the whole sector a step further in innovation,” he said.

Drikos stressed that a great opportunity is also the European Green Deal and Greece’s efforts to phase out coal. “This represents an unprecedented chance to take advantage of our scientists, make them feel professionally secure and invest in them”, he said.

He said young people should be directed in such a direction and above all, be granted the chance to set up innovation-driven start-ups and avoid being “eaten” by big corporates. An idea would be to make it mandatory for big corporates to work with start-ups led by young people in synergies for big environmental projects.

Greek Education Minister Niki Kerameus told EURACTIV that the government will put large emphasis on the upgrading of both soft and digital skills across all levels of education in the post-pandemic era.

The minister added that a set of investments and reforms are currently being implemented to cultivate the digital skills of students and teachers, aiming to capitalise on the “major digital leap” that was achieved during the pandemic through distance learning in all Greek schools.

Kerameus said Greece’s national recovery plan will earmark €1.3 billion for the education sector, including major projects for cultivating the students’ and teachers’ digital skills, upgrading the country’s vocational education and training system, and promoting the extroversion, innovation and market links of Greek universities.

“Those projects complement a set of reforms that we are undertaking to bring the education system closer to the needs of the Greek society and economy,” she said.

The aim is to encourage our universities to forge partnerships with foreign universities in teaching as well as research.

“The evaluation of Greek universities, departments and degree programmes by the Hellenic Authority for Higher Education takes into account the tracking and absorption of graduates in the labour market, while our policies on restructuring the map of Greek tertiary education consider labour market needs at the local, regional and national levels,” she added.

The upcoming University Framework Bill will also include significant reforms to encourage collaborations between universities and industry, including the enhancement of the universities’ technology transfer offices, the modernisation of the framework for creating spin-offs, and the establishment of more industrial PhD places.

“Our aspiration is that the combination of those significant reforms and major investment projects will result in an education system that provides to young people a set of alternative, attractive options and paths to pursue their ambitions,” she said.

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ROME | Young Italians face future retirement headaches

“The biggest concern of young Italians does not affect the flexibility of work, except in cases where it becomes extremely precarious,” Maria Cristina Pisani, president of the Italian National Youth Council, who recently published a report on the employment conditions and prospects of the under-35s in Italy, told EURACTIV.

Pisani said the main concerns for young Italians relate to low wages (more than half earn less than €10,000 annually), work discontinuity and subsequent retirement prospects. For this reason, the main request to the government is to invest more to guarantee young people an adequate pension.

According to data from the Italian National Statistical Institute (Istat), in March 2021 in Italy the employment rate was 56%, the unemployment rate was 10% and the inactivity rate was 36%.

Among young people between 25 and 34 years old, the employed were 60%, the unemployed 15% and the inactivity rate was 29%. The unemployment rate forecast for 2021 is 11%, slightly higher than that recorded in 2020. According to Istat, last year the NEETs-rate among Italians aged 15-34 was 25%.

In a recent report, the Bank of Italy stated that the economic sectors in which youth employment was most affected by the pandemic were those of clothing, commerce, services and tourism. Seasonal jobs in particular decreased, and small entrepreneurs had serious difficulties, especially in the tourism and hospitality sectors.

“In general, young Italians put their trust in the national Parliament and government, but above all in European institutions, especially in light of the support that the EU has given to our country with the Next Generation plan,” Pisani added.

The Italian government, as part of the national recovery plan, aims to strengthen the educational, instruction and training platforms for entering the world of work.

Investments in the ecological transition will contribute to the creation of youth employment in all sectors affected by the European Green Deal. Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced the creation of a fund with a public guarantee to help young people take out a mortgage to buy a house and reduce the advance payment.

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MADRID | ‘Society fails to keep its promises’

In Spain experts fear that more than 30% of young people are at risk of poverty, Adrià Junyent, 26, vice-president of the Spanish Youth Council told EURACTIV’s partner EFE.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the situation and we’ll pay a heavy price for it – I am afraid that, if things don’t change rapidly, we’ll be the victims of this crisis,” said Junyent.

He considers that politicians in the Iberian country have failed to keep their promises of a better economic future for the youth, a situation aggravated by the pandemic.

Spain’s current unemployment rate stands at 15%, according to the National Statistical Institute, with a youth unemployment rate of 37% (Eurostat).

“Employers normally offer very bad conditions to young workers, and this was so even before the pandemic and we don’t have access to quality jobs as they only offer temporary jobs or internships,” Junyent said, adding that according to the latest statistics, only 9% of young workers in Spain have a permanent job.

“This way, it is impossible for a young couple, for example, to buy a house and start a family,” he added.

According to official data by the Spanish government, the country currently has some 1.5 million NEETs, the highest figure in five years.

“We shouldn’t criminalise young people or blame them for the problems – they are discouraged to seek a job, because they don’t see real possibilities to be hired with good conditions and permanent contracts,” Junyent said with regard to the high number of NEETs.

“Many of them are considering looking for better opportunities abroad, as we did in previous crises such as in 2008-2009, they are frustrated,” he added.

The “Youth Guarantee is only part of the solution, a temporary one,” he said.

Spain is currently implementing an “Action Plan to promote youth unemployment” which aims to boost a better qualification of young people in the field of education and training, make them more resilient to future crises and provide them with better tools to access the labour market.

Spain has committed €2.3 billion of its recovery funds to promote employment policies, of which €765 million will be allocated to boost youth employment and make the Spanish labour market more “dynamic, resilient and inclusive” for youth.

The pandemic has heavily hit the tourism sector, which accounts for around 13% of Spain’s GDP. This has particularly affected the youth working in that sector, many of whom remain on temporary lay-off schemes, of which they get 70% of their salary paid by the state.


VISEGRAD

WARSAW | COVID-19 made student job opportunities disappear

Just before the COVID-19 outbreak, Poland’s unemployment rate was 2.9%, according to Eurostat data. Currently, it is 3.1%, one of the lowest in the EU.

However, when it comes to young people, their position in the labour market seems less optimistic. Pre-pandemic, the unemployment rate among people under the age of 25 was 9.5%, but has now jumped to 13.9%.

“Nowadays 250,000 fewer young Poles enter the labour market than several years ago, but despite this, they are dominant in many industries. Their advantage, however, will be reduced by the pandemic,” labour market expert Łukasz Komuda told EURACTIV.

Komuda stressed that young people usually have problems with finding a permanent job and flexible forms of employment are the most common among them, with the pandemic enhancing this trend. A full 37% of people under the age of 26 work in these kinds of professions and many of them are students.

A lot of work opportunities usually dedicated to students before the pandemic, have disappeared from the labour market, above all in tourism, retail sales, the events industry, culture, gastronomy and entertainment.

There’s much uncertainty among Polish young people, with launching a professional career more difficult than in previous years.

Experts have also said out that the government’s Anti-Crisis Shield, which aimed to maintain employment in the time of the pandemic, did not take into account temporary work and if the regulation were clearer, it would be possible to save more jobs.

The Polish government maintains its priority is to save jobs. In the Polish “New Deal” it is stated that 500,000 new workplaces will be created due to planned investments. The government also aims to reduce civil law contracts by fully taxing mandate agreements with the prospect of introducing a single labour contract.

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PRAGUE | Young people among most affected citizens’ group

Czech officials denied the pandemic had had any lasting effect on unemployment.

“The pandemic lasting more than a year has left no marks on general unemployment in the Czech Republic,” Czech Labour Office’s spokesperson Kateřina Beránková told EURACTIV.

In the first quarter of 2021, the unemployment rate in the Czech Republic reached 3.4%, up from 2% in the same period in 2020. Still, the Czech unemployment rate is among the lowest in the EU.

According to Beránková, employment has been kept at normal levels thanks to special support programmes implemented during the COVID-19 crises. Spring economic forecast published by the European Commission in May 2021 predicts that the Czech unemployment rate will hit 3.8% this year and 3.5% in 2022.

However, the pandemic’s impacts on the young generation are much higher. According to data published by labour portal Profesia, the number of unemployed people younger than 24 years increased by 30%, year-on-year.

“Young people are among the most affected citizens group. Young people together with women belong to ‘losers’ of pandemic situation,” said economist Lukáš Kovanda from Trinity Bank.

Czech authorities are currently implementing several programmes focused on young people.

“Such a practice will be last in the future as well,” Beránková confirmed. Among the most popular ones, there are “Guarantees for young” implemented in all Czech regions. The programme was launched in 2015 and the Labour Office plans to extend it till October 2022. Within the programme, Labour Office is pairing young candidates with relevant job offers.

Moreover, the Office covers the employer’s labour costs in the first 6-12 months, when the job agreement is reached.

“The program supports young unemployed people till age 29, regardless of their education level,” Beránková added. The Czech National Recovery Plan includes digital skills investments and education programmes reforms to reflect the needs of the post-pandemic era. However, there is no particular chapter dedicated to young people.

“I think that during the crises, the Czech government left young people behind,” civil society expert and former head of Czech Council of Children and Youth Pavel Trantina told EURACTIV. He stressed that Czech young people stayed home on distance learning for a far too long period, the highest in Europe.

“This will, over time, affect both the knowledge and competence of young people and lead to difficulties while finding quality work. Above all, it will negatively influence social relations and mental health of the young generation,” Trantina warned.

In 2019, the share of young people aged 20–34 neither in employment nor in education and training (NEETs) was 16.4%.

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BUDAPEST | Personal income tax as crisis management tool?

In April, Hungary’s unemployment rate has risen only half a percent to 4.4% in a year, the central statistical office said in May. Nevertheless, younger people are disproportionally affected, with the unemployment rate of 12.5% being the highest for those aged 15-24. Meanwhile, the number of young people, aged 15-34, neither in employment nor in education and training grew from 14.6% in 2019 to 16.7%, the highest since 2015, according to Eurostat.

The development of education systems, including higher education, public education, vocational training and adult education, is one of the priorities of Hungary’s recovery plan, towards which the country plans to spend 20.4% of the nearly €7 billion in grants from the EU’s recovery fund.

However, the words youth or young people do not appear at all in the English-language summary of the plans available publicly.

Meanwhile, the government announced that as a measure to support young labour market participants, it will cancel the personal income tax for those under 25.

The move, which according to the government’s calculations could affect up to a million workers aged 15-25 starting from next year was touted by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as one of the tools for crisis management, with which he said the government wanted to support younger people, after helping retirees and families.

Not all young people feel like the government is paying attention to their needs.

“Of course, it’s always been my generation that received the least support from the government and this is universally true,” Viktor, a 27-year-old data specialist working for an international car rental group told EURACTIV, citing lack of support housing support and steady income, among other issues.

“It was perfectly shown during the vaccination campaigns of all governments in the world, those elderly persons and [Baby] Boomers were prioritised while the actual active earners in the labour market, the Millennials were marginalised and shortlisted,” he added.

However, not everyone agrees.

“I’m generally optimistic, and I think that the post-epidemic situation will not be any more difficult than the shutdowns and closures that followed the first appearance of the virus and the resulting shock,” said 25-year-old Dorottya who lost her job when the marketing agency she worked at collapsed.

She also does not see the increased flexibility as an issue. According to her, “this transformation represents an opportunity that can be exploited very well, even in the long-term, by those who are astute.”

Yet, at least some young professionals seem to be looking for more stability after a turbulent period in the labour market.

Young Hungarians at the beginning of their careers are seeking more stability and attention, while working time flexibility is no longer the priority it was pre-pandemic, according to a survey conducted by the Zyntern.com job portal, Piac&Profit reported.


THE BALKANS

ZAGREB | Looming new economic crisis?

Communist Yugoslavia’s leader, late Josip Broz Tito, is allegedly the author of the sentence: “People with such youth should not worry about their future”. Forty years later, however, it seems it’s the youth who should be worrying about the future.

Croatia’s post-Yugoslav democracy has brought an increased, but often only declarative, interest in young people. The youngest EU member’s unemployment rate is 8.9%, but the unemployment of 15-to 29-year-olds is 21%, with 16.1% NEETs in the country.

In Croatia’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NPOO), investments in support for employment and job start-up in sectors that are crucial for the digital and green transition amount to over billion kuna (€133 million). These benefits also apply to those who are just entering the labour market [] Young people, who are one of the most endangered groups on the labour market due to the consequences of pandemics, should benefit greatly from that,” said a spokesperson from the ministry of labour and welfare.

The ministry added that a catalogue of deficit skills has already been developed with an emphasis on green and digital. Some 300 million kuna (€40 million) is planned for the entire project, and it is intended for both employed and unemployed.

“Along with other groups on the labour market, young people will be able to independently manage their career path and choose the skills they want to acquire, take the initiative and further improve themselves in order to increase their employability,” the ministry spokesperson said.

The government has established a central state office for demography and youth which has, together with the national psychology chamber, launched telephone helplines for psychological counselling of young people during the pandemic.

Marta Kunić, student, thinks there will be a new economic crisis and it will be even harder to get the first jobs and first work experiences, let alone a long-term contract, which will make it even harder to become independent from one’s parents.

“I think the crisis ahead will reveal the inability of the ruling ideologies to respond to the real problems ahead and that we, young people, must finally wake up from hibernation and fight for knowledge and expertise to prevail in the face of stupidity and favouritism, she said.

DKolektiv, an association that encourages volunteering among young people, pointed out that “along with people who lost their jobs in later years, young people are at the greatest risk of spending their twenties changing jobs due to “flexible work arrangements, depending on the seasonal, temporary and low-paid jobs. This makes it even more impossible to become independent, resolve housing issues and start a family – which is in direct contrast to the alleged demographic measures.”

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SOFIA | Bulgaria’s youth unemployment up by 61%

Currently, the total unemployment in Bulgaria is 6.1%, and the situation shows a steady improvement. However, the number of newly registered unemployed young people up to the age of 29 has increased by as much as 61%, according to the average monthly data of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy for the last 13 months, provided for EURACTIV.

Sectors in which young people work continue to face lasting difficulties. The pandemic severely affected working youth up to the age of 29, as the biggest economic blow was to hotels, restaurants, trade and food production. When activities in these sectors were suspended, young people with little work experience and no qualifications were the first to be released, commented experts from the social affairs ministry.

Currently, 22% of all unemployed young people do not study or work.

“It is speculative to say that only young people were the most affected by the pandemic. The fact is that the crisis has hit people who don’t have permanent employment contracts, and young people are mainly employed in temporary jobs. Such a sector is tourism, which has suffered particularly badly, ” said 22-year-old student Simona Dimitrova, chairwoman of Bulgaria’s National Youth Forum.

“There was no specific state support for young people. The crisis hit youth organizations particularly hard because our work involves visits to specific places and personal meetings with people. Тhere was simply no way to do it in the beginning of the pandemic. That’s why the most valuable thing would be state aid in the first months of the crisis”, Dimitrova said.

However, there was also no state aid. More vulnerable youth organizations have simply ceased to exist due to the severe financial blow to the NGO sector.

This year, Bulgaria is implementing nine projects focused on young people, which are financed through the state budget as part of the National Action Plan for Employment for 2021. Separately, the country is implementing four more projects, which are funded through the European Social Fund under the Operational Program human resources.

The government works on the projects “Career Start” (for young people graduating from the higher education) and “Activation of inactive people” (for inclusion of unemployed and non-learning young people in the scope of the workforce). Two European projects are aimed at providing training through work and internships in the real economy, which includes 4,000 young people.

Bulgaria has managed to achieve some success in activating long-term unemployed youth. Since the beginning of the year, 4,256 new economically inactive young people have been registered in the labour offices under the Activation of Inactive Persons program. A total of 7% of them have started working since the beginning of 2021.

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BUCHAREST | NEETs leader of the bloc

Romania has one of the highest rate of NEETs in the EU, 19.4% compared with the EU average of 16.4% in 2019, the latest year for which Eurostat has complete data.

In 2020, despite a general increase in unemployment caused by the pandemic, statistics data do not show a dramatic change in youth unemployment. Still, the jobless rate is considerably higher for people aged between 15 and 24 – 17.3% for the whole of 2020 – compared with the country’s average of 5%, according to the national statistics institute INS.

Nevertheless, this is better than after the financial crisis of 2008, when the level of youth unemployment neared 25%, but in the past decade, it fell as low as 15%. But the employment levels are considerably worse in small towns and rural areas than in big cities. According to the Social Monitor of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung almost one in five of the young people living in the rural areas is not in education, employment or training (NEET). In big cities, just one in twelve youngsters can be qualified as NEETs.

“Excessive concentration of both opportunities and resources in large and very large urban agglomerations is, in this regard as in others, an important problem in Romania,” according to Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Romania.

The European Commission forecasts the unemployment rate will go up to 5.2% in 2021, before falling to 4.8% in the next year. The statistics data may not paint a bleak picture, but the situation of young people was not improved in 2020, but quite the opposite.

Actually, the pandemic exacerbated some of the already known problems of young people, and solutions for the fears and needs of youngsters became increasingly difficult to find, according to the Youth Council of Romania (YCR).

“Many young people have lost their jobs or, for those who have just finished their studies, the employment process has become an almost impossible challenge,” it noted.

The Youth Council of Romania says the pandemic did not cause the problems that have led to declining youth employability and/or quality of life at work for young people, but it certainly aggravated them.

Even now, more than a year after the pandemic hit Romania, uncertainty and unpredictability are a constant presence in the lives of young people, the organization says. Besides the job losses, the economic crisis also affected the non-government organizations that work with youth people, as they faced financial problems after losing some backing from sponsors. As a result, some programs for NEETs have stopped due to a lack of funds, YCR noted.

While Romania posts one of the highest economic growths in the EU, the financial problems are far from being solved. With a very restrained budget, due to huge deficits accumulated even before the pandemic, the government has little to offer the young people.

Actually, over the past 30 years, there were almost no investments in infrastructure for young people and most of the already scarce funding went to the education sector, as Romania has a high rate of early school leaving (15.3%, compared with an EU average of 10.3%).

The government wanted to address this challenge in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan it submitted to the European Commission this week, but few details from the plan actually made it to the public yet.


Paulina Borowska, EURACTIV.pl | Ferando Heller, EFE | Nikolaus J. Kurmayer, EURACTIV.de | Daniele Lettig, EURACTIV.it | Vlagyiszlav Makszimov, EURACTIV.com | Sarantis Michalopoulos, EURACTIV.com | Bogdan Neagu, EURACTIV.ro | Krassen Nikolov, EURACTIV.bg | Matthieu Pollet, EURACTIV.fr | Zeljko Trkaniec, EURACTIV.hr | Pekka Vänttinen, EURACTIV.com | Aneta Zachová, EURACTIV.cz

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[Edited by Alexandra Brzozowski, Sarantis Michalopoulos, Josie Le Blond | EURACTIV.com]

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